Nightly News   |  March 02, 2013

Search called off for man swallowed by sinkhole

One man is presumed dead after being sucked into the earth as he was sleeping, and now other families in the neighborhood are on edge. NBC’s Gabe Gutierrez reports.

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>>> now to florida . and what appears to be an increasingly dangerous situation for one neighborhood as a sinkhole keeps growing. one man is presumed dead after being sucked into the earth as he was sleeping. and tonight other families are on edge. nbc's gabe gutierrez is in seffner, florida watching this drama unfold. gabe, good evening.

>> reporter: lester, late this afternoon investigators said the rescue efforts had ended. the site is entirely unstable. they already brought in new equipment and tomorrow they plan to demolish the house. tonight the scramble to safety. how long did they give you, ma'am?

>> 30 minutes .

>> reporter: this family given just a half hour to collect their belongings and leave. engineers say a large sinkhole has compromised these homes near tampa. it keeps growing underground. at least 30 feet wide and 50 feet deep. they don't know when it will stop.

>> we can no longer sustain a rescue effort. we met with the family, advised them of that, and that at this point we have to move beyond the rescue to demolition phase.

>> reporter: investigators can't even get inside the home safely to assess the damage. but as engineers tested the area around it today, jeremy bush brought flowers and wept. tired, still wearing the same clothes two days later, he waited for word about his brother, 36-year-old jeff bush, still trapped underground, presumed dead after being swallowed by sinkhole in his bedroom late thursday night.

>> i don't think there is any hope. they say the hole is getting bigger and i don't think they'll be able to find him.

>> reporter: jeremy jumped into the hole in a desperate but unsuccessful attempt to rescue his brother. a sheriff's deputy had to pull him to safety.

>> as i was pulling him up i was looking at the hole, watching it collapse, watching the bed frame and everything just sink into the ground.

>> reporter: that night's terror in a frantic 911 call.

>> okay. and what happened to the house?

>> um, the bedroom floor just collapsed and my brother-in-law is in there. he's underneath the house.

>> reporter: sinkholes are relatively common in florida due to the state's unique limestone bed roba bedrock. as rain water filters into the ground it can erode the rock and cause a collapse. investigators say this hole could have been building for years. neighbors wonder if their homes are in jeopardy.

>> just rips my heart out that people that i've lived next door to for 21 years had to leave and just -- they have a lot of memories also.

>> reporter: just a few moments ago the family of the victim gathered behind me to pay their respects. authorities weren't able to put microphones and a small camera near the entrance of the home. they found no signs of life , lester.

>> heart breaking story. gabe gutierrez in florida tonight. thank you.